Staying safe while skiing backcountry

Posted on January 19, 2021

It is the time of year when many Utah residents take to the mountains to enjoy some skiing and snowboarding. With perfectly groomed slopes and well-marked trails, it may seem unusual to some that many winter athletes prefer to cut their own paths on the backcountry of local resorts. Backcountry is an area that is not groomed or inspected by ski patrol and does not have marked paths and routes to follow.

Not long ago a Utah man died in the Park City ridgeline when he was caught in an avalanche in backcountry at Park City. He was snowboarding with a partner who survived the avalanche and was able to call it into authorities. The man perished before he could be rescued.

This accident raises many questions regarding liability and safety when it comes to enjoying the unregulated areas of mountain resorts. This post is informational in content and should not be read as legal advice. All questions about skiing and snowboarding accidents should be directed to knowledgeable Utah personal injury attorneys.

Who is in charge of backcountry?

There is a general idea that backcountry is “use at your own risk” due to the lack of care and attention resorts often pay to these areas. However, backcountry is still part of many resorts’ properties and under their purview of management.

In the case of the deceased snowboarder, he and his partner used an exit from one of Park City’s lifts to access backcountry. They left the lift area and hiked up the ridge to a location where they could drop into board. While descending the mountain, the avalanche was triggered and the man was buried.

A complicating factor regarding the area where the man died was its proximity to National Forest land. What private landowners can and cannot do on federal land is regulated, and cutting winter athletes off from backcountry access may not be possible when it attaches to public land.

Should access to backcountry be limited?

In some resorts in Utah and other parts of the country, winter athletes must show that they are prepared for avalanches before they are allowed to enter backcountry. They may need to show that they have beacons, shovels, and even deployable airbags to keep them above the snow when avalanches start. In these locations patrols monitor backcountry access to those who are prepared to use it safely.

However, not all winter athletes know what backcountry is or that it is not for everyone. Warning signs and gate access for backcountry can look deceptively similar to that of safe, groomed runs. An inexperienced athlete may find themselves in backcountry without knowing it or realizing the dangers they could face.

Who is liable for backcountry accidents?

There is no good answer to stay who will be responsible for accidents in backcountry at winter sport resorts. Many resorts attempt to insulate themselves from liability through the use of waivers, but negligent or reckless management of their resorts may offer victims paths to recovery for the harm they suffer. To learn more about how to pursue a skiing or snowboarding accident, victims can contact their trusted local West Valley City personal injury attorneys.